Choosing Your Tax Preparer

Choosing Your Tax Preparer

It isn’t just your imagination; tax returns are becoming more complex. This year, personal and business taxes are likely to be even more of a challenge for those who file their own returns because Congress waited longer than usual to finalize income tax laws for 2012. More people are turning to professional tax preparers this year to ensure compliance and make returns easier, but it’s important to find tax preparation services that suit your needs.

For those with single income sources, no dependents and otherwise simple returns, the standard 1040EZ could work for you. However, this form is designed for those with extremely straightforward tax returns that include no significant assets or property, no international income sources, no available deductions and amount to under $100,000 in annual income. Anyone who is not eligible to file a 1040EZ can benefit from hiring a tax preparation service.

The IRS has recently instituted a mandatory test for all tax preparation specialists. Those who pass earn the Registered Tax Return Preparer certification, or RTRP. Those with RTRP certifications have usually completed a six-week training course in filing returns, but they are not Certified Public Accountants. Although an RTRP working with a national chain of tax preparation service providers may be able to prepare fairly straightforward returns, they are not equipped to handle larger incomes, various allowable deductions, estate taxes and other more complex issues.

A CPA is a financial professional who gives you the widest scope of knowledge of tax compliance. Your CPA is equipped to work with large or international incomes, significant philanthropic contributions, and tax returns for the self-employed. While a CPA can work with more straightforward tax questions, he or she is also able to field the more challenging tax returns that less experienced preparers may not be capable of preparing.

Regardless of the degree of expertise you choose, your tax preparer should meet the following guidelines:

  • A tax preparer should not promise a significantly lower payment or larger refund than competitors offer. If your taxes are being prepared accurately and with full compliance, the figures should be similar no matter which tax professional is preparing the return. Instead, seek the preparer who assures greater accuracy.
  • Choose a tax preparation service that will still be available to answer your questions after tax day.  A permanent office is preferable to a kiosk or temporary storefront.
  • Find a tax preparer who has the time to devote to helping you understand your tax return fully. A preparer should be able to give you as much or as little information as you need about your return.
  • Your tax preparer should not ask you to sign the return until you are confident that it is ready to mail. Your signature attests to the truth of the document, so tax preparers who take shortcuts by asking you to sign a blank form could cause you problems later. Never sign a blank form.

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